John GottusoThey came to court Monday to watch 66-year-old John Gottuso, a Pasadena psychologist who runs a church and Christian school, be sentenced for demonstrating a sex act with a teenage girl.
And they came to bemoan the fact that he
will still be able to operate a school.
It was nine years ago that Gottuso
license to practice because a state agency found that he
was having sex with some of his
Two years later, another state agency forbade Gottuso
from having any involvement with his
church's preschool, partly because agency investigators said he
once played "sex tag" under a blanket with two girls.
Then last month, Gottuso
settled a sexual and psychological abuse lawsuit by 11 plaintiffs.
And Monday, a Pasadena Municipal Court judge sentenced him to 30 days house arrest and five years probation after he
pleaded no contest to demonstrating a sex act with a 15-year-old girl in late 1995 in front of a class at his Christ-Bridge Academy
, now based in Altadena.
But because of a loophole in a state law, those legal problems have done little to restrict Gottuso's ability to counsel and teach children.
Even after the state Department of Social Services took action against his
church's license to operate a private preschool in 1989, Gottuso
continued to operate. His
church circumvented the department's restrictions on Gottuso's involvement in the school by simply changing the description of it.
...Paul Morantz, a Pacific Palisades lawyer who represented the six adults and five students in the civil suit against Gottuso, said: "We as a state owe the public some protection... to make sure that no one with this kind of track' record can teach in private schools."
Outside court, Gottuso
lawyer declined to comment. Gottuso
teaches and preaches to what disenchanted former followers describe as a sexually focused, psycho-religious cult based on unquestioning devotion and obedience to him.
In court papers, plaintiffs in the civil suit gave accounts of Gottuso
verbally abusing them with sexually explicit street language and making them believe that they were virtually enslaved by their own sexual desires, and that the only way to free themselves was to engage freely in sex.
Adolescent girls said in court papers that he
pinched or cupped their breasts, intimately hugged and kissed them and persuaded them to disrobe in front of him.
Shortly before court convened, Gottuso
dashed past the former followers, refusing to acknowledge them. Gottuso, a New York native, began his career as a psychologist and preacher in the early 1970s.He obtained his doctorate in psychology and became pastor of Parkview Christian Church in Glendale in 1972.
The church's name was later changed to Christ-Bridge Immanuel Church
.In 1983, the church bought Holly Oaks Christian preschool in Arcadia, which later became Christ-Bridge Academy
espoused a counseling therapy that he
called psytheosynthesis, which melded psychology and theology to solve people's problems. He
recruited some of his
original followers, including the Rowe family, in 1979 when a member of the nationally known Campus Crusade for Christ invited him to a retreat in Guam to explain his
theories.Later, some Crusade leaders began "rescue missions" to dissuade people from following Gottuso
after hearing women complain about sexual abuse.
Even today, Campus Crusade members periodically distribute fliers at the school warning parents and students of Gottuso's record.
In 1989, the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance
's license to practice as a psychologist after nine female patients, including married women, complained to state regulators that Gottuso engaged in a variety of sexual acts with them in violation of professional standards.
Regulators found that Gottuso's
treatment did more harm than good, leaving several of them devastated emotionally, mentally, sexually and socially."Morantz said that the insurers for the church and Gottuso
agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle the civil suit filed by 11 plaintiffs in 1996.